24 December 2014

Overdue Update!!

Well BJ & I wish all a Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 
We are enjoying the Season In Jacksonville, FL with mixed blessings. We are happy to be spending Christmas near our son and daughter and the granddaughters.  Weather has been nice.  We are catching up with family since it had been a year since we were here. 

When we first arrived in very late October we first stayed at Camp Blanding, a nearby Florida National Guard base on beautiful Lake Kingsley. The RV park was right on the waterfront.  I had a great time playing with the granddaughters in the water. The lake is spring fed with clear water and white sand bottom.  It reminded me of a lake my grandparents lived on when I was a kid. 

The waterfront with campground in background!

Playing with the girls!
That chain of lakes is now mostly part of Disney World!
Our favorite Halloween characters!

Thanksgiving was especially great as it was a big family event in a nice RV park on the beach.   Marla, my sister, came up in her RV.  Her son, Russell, and his family came up and stayed in my brothers RV since he was in Atlanta.  My other sister, CC came up Wednesday.   
Our two granddaughters on the right and Marla's grand kids on the left!

And our granddaughters, Reagan & Addison, had a ball playing with their cousins from Cocoa.  Mia was a year older then Reagan and Gabriel was a little younger then Addison.

So we had a great T-day feast.
Russell carving the guest of the day while his wife Lisa and our son Garrett supervise.  Gabriel  monitors from the RV door!
We all are enjoying the T-Day FEAST!

All are thankful for the desert table!
My sister CC, Rosie, our son's fiancee, and our daughter Jennifer relaxing after dinner!

On Saturday we fixed a great low country boil and everybody dove in with a great appetite.  Gary & Floy were back from Atlanta and joined us for another festive meal and a memorable family event. 
Roasting some marshmallows after the Low Country Boil!
I am willing to share this great tried and true Low Country Boil with anybody that will honor it properly, e.g. use it!

However, there have been some  downsides, mainly involving problems with the RV.  First  was as we returned to NAS Jax FamCamp  the RV would not restart as I was preparing to park in our camping spot.  I ended up getting towed to the Cummins Service Center the next day, Saturday!  On Monday they found a blown fuse, replaced it and all was well so they sent me on my way.  I got back near the base and stopped to fuel up and RV would not restart with same indications as before.  I replaced the fuze but still no start!  Another tow back to Cummins.
Tow # 1

Another day, another tow!

A week later they had finished some rewiring and all was well. We headed over to the beach for T-day and no problems. 
However, as we returned to the Famcamp after T-day I got a STOP ENGINE light about a half mile from the campground.  I stopped and a few minutes later it was no longer lit so I moved to the camping spot.  For the next week plus I did some trouble shooting and decided to take it back to Cummins.   We drove it up on a Sunday, light traffic, with no STOP ENGINE light.  They worked on it for 2 days and said all was well so off we went back to NAS Jax. We got about half way there and the STOP ENGINE light came on.   After I stopped the engine for a few minutes it went away and the tech data is very clear that if the light is not on, the problem is not present so we managed to drive it back to Cummins!  That was 2+ weeks ago and here we still sit.
Spartan, the chassis manufacter, has been closely involved with the Cummins techs.  This problem is not connected to the earlier one which involved the wiring between the transmission and engine.  They have determined this is an engine wiring harness that connects most of the engine sensors to the ECM (Electronic Control Module). 
The harness is not an off the shelf item and Spartan has to manufacture one for this particular VIN!  Due to the Holiday Season its exact availability date is still not determined, sometime after the first of next month, but probably before the end of the month!
So we are disappointed our arrival in Key West is delayed, but on the other hand we are enjoying some extra time with our granddaughters.   And, BJ has started looking for a house as we are considering moving from full-time travel to part time travel!

 Always at home, no matter where we are!!

20 October 2014

Balloons of All Shapes and Sizes

Thursday was Special Shapes day at the ABQ Balloon Fiesta and Kids Day. ABQ Public Schools were out for the day and there were happy kids all over the place which enhanced the fun for all!
Here are some pics of some of the special shapes!  There were sooooo many!
Plus it was a Mass Ascension Day when they put up many balloons in minimum time!  We were at the RV, about a half-mile from the launch field so we watched them rise from behind the Balloon Museum which was between us and the field!  They just kept coming and coming 5-6 at a time or more some time!

Here are some pics of some of the many Special Shapes!

Pigs do fly!

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

10 October 2014

More Balloons

What a beautiful sight, seeing all these balloons.  And, the special shapes - I never knew they could build so many different shapes. Darth Vader, Elvis, Stahe Coach, space ship, cow, octopus, fire hydrant, pig (yes, pigs fly), clocks, clowns and on and on!  Thur is Special Shapes day and Kids day so more on that in another blog entry!

Sunday was day 2 and it started off slow as winds were too strong to fly! However, that decision was not made until the pilot meeting at 0615. So we reported as normal at 0615 and stood by for instructions which were to "stand-up" the balloons for display but leave them tethered to the ground.

There crowds and crowds of folks wondering thru the forest of balloons standing up for display.  After about a half hour the balloons started deflating and packing up! But, Sunday ended fabulously. It was "The Glow". Our balloon did not participate so we were free to enjoy the beautiful sights of The Glow!

After dark the balloons are stood up tethered to the ground and the pilot will ignite the burner for short bursts which light up the balloons from inside.  How beautiful!  And, every now and then they would all do it in unison so the whole field was lit up.  It would start out with one or two making several short bursts, then others would follow and more and more would join in and in about 30-45 seconds they were all lit for about a minute or little less.  They were limited on how long they could light the burner since the longer the burner was on the stronger the balloon tried to fly!!

A balloon with its burner on!

Many balloons lit at once!

The fruit basket?

A "mass burn"!

The kids balloon!

One of the things that apparently make this the biggest and best Balloon Fiesta in the world is the Albuquerque Box, a wind pattern that is great for flying balloons and is unique to Albuquerque and its surrounding terrain!  When the box is in place the balloons lift off from the Fiesta field and the wind takes them on a southerly route over the city, several miles down they encounter a wind them moves them west away from the mountains that are east of the city.  The balloons then move to a higher altitude and catch a northerly wind that takes them back toward the launch field where a easterly wind can take them back over the field and they can land where they took off or make the circuit again!

The Box is not a constant, it takes certain weather conditions to be in place!  But, when it is in place you can see balloons in the air, some going south and others moving north!  It does not seem like a big deal but it is impressive when in effect!

 Always at home, no matter where we are!!

04 October 2014

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

At last we are here after months of anticipation. My sister, Marla, joined us from FL in her RV.

Today, Saturday 4 October,  is the official first day but we have been here since Wed with the SKP Boomers, a sub-unit of the SKP RV Club.  There are 40 Boomer rigs here and many of them have been here before which is helpful. We are in a field across the street from the Fiesta grounds along with 1800 other RVs,

Like most of the Boomers we have decided to volunteer as crew dogs for the balloon launches.  After several, too many it seemed, meetings about safety and procedures and how to get lined up with a balloon pilot and his crew chief  today finally arrived at at 0530 we headed over to the launch field in the dark.

We linked up with a pilot from Tampa FL which was strictly coincidental!  The morning dawned beautiful. Sky was clear and winds were at 3 knots at ground level.  At 1,500 they were stiffer but that is higher then most go apparently.  So Ron, the pilot, said sat her up.  And about 40 minutes later the zebra gave him a thumbs up for launch and away he went with 2 VIP passengers! We jumped in the chase truck and started tracking him and after a 30-40 minute flight we caught up with him in a shopping center parking lot in ABQ!

Of course he was one of only about 600 balloons that launched this AM from the Fiesta Field.  What a site.  And it is all managed by zebras, officials in black and while striped uniforms.  You do not move a balloon without their direction.  The balloons launched in waves from one end of the field to the other starting before sunrise and continuing for several hours!

Just look!

Some of the first to launch.  They are illuminated by the propane burners!

A few more standing up!

These will be ready to launch soon. It is about sunrise!

The next wave is standing up!

Starting the inflation process with the fan at lower left!
 I had always wondered how they got these hot air balloons inflated to start with. Now I know. They have a fan driven by a small gas engine and several people hold the throat open and the fan pushes a lot of air into the envelope (what us pro's call the balloon)! After most of the balloon is full of air the pilot lights the burners in the basket which is laying on it side and it heats the air inside the envelope!  As it heats the envelope "stands up"!
You then are ready to launch - when the zebra gives thumbs up!

Ready for lift-off!

Some of the balloons in the air!  Ours is in there somewhere!
And here he comes down in the parking lot!

Back on the ground!
Packing up the envelope!
Post flight celebration is mandatory!

The launch field is nearly empty when we get back!
This event is a very family friendly event as kids of all ages were all over the place.  The kids collect Balloon Cards as each team has business size cards with the specific of their balloon!  We are really going to enjoy this event I know.
Volunteers frequently get a ride in the balloons as a reward for their efforts.  BJ, nor I, were really interested in that aspect. I prefer motor driven air vehicles!!  But on Friday during our training sessions (a special training event for Boomers, because they have been such great supporters over the years) BJ got an unexpected opportunity to take her ride!  She came back smiles from ear to ear!  Because we were there for training we did not have one of the too many cameras with us.  But, another Boomer did and when I get those pics I will post them too!  

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

13 September 2014

I Would Have Rather Been Scuba Diving!

Little Wild Horse 
We are in the magnificent, beautiful canyon lands of southern Utah again and loving it!  We first went to Green River, a small town on the river at I-70.  Found a nice place to park Tucson in the Green River State Park and then BJ and I started exploring.  

We decided to hike two nearby slot canyons near Goblins State Park.  These slot canyons were marked as easy, not needing any special skills to access them.  Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon were each about 4 miles hikes - we planned on doing one of them, probably Little Wild Horse Canyon which was a little more effort then Bell Canyon. A quick look (first mistake) at the map and literature made it appear Little Wild Horse was a loop trail and Bell Canyon was a trail off that loop and back to the starting point also. Total combined length was allegedly 8 miles and BJ kept talking about lets do both! It was a bright sunny day with projected temps in hi 80's, maybe even low 90's!  But, oh so dry!!

So we drove the 50 miles over to the canyons and loaded up with water; my camel;back and several bottles of water in BJ's fanny pack and some snacks. Left lunch in the Jeep as we were getting an early start and would be back in time for lunch!

So we walk nearly a mile from the trail head to the beginning of the canyons.  At this entry point there is one wide entrance but a big permanent mud puddle about 30 feet long and 20 feet wide between two vertical rock walls.  To get around it you scrambled up a narrow trail on the left side.  Much of this short trail was no more then a foot path on stone slopes, very steep in some places, but short.  When you came off the this steep path which took you up about 75 feet over the puddle and well past it you were back down about your starting level and you could go right into Little Wild Horse Canon or slightly to the left into Bell Canyon.  We opted for Little Wild Horse with thought we might do Bell Canyon after lunch!  

We knew there was some impediments in the canyon but we felt we could surmount therm or turn around and come back!  So off we go!  There were 3 other cars in the parking lot so we expected to see a few people on the way.  We ran into some easy impediments that we managed to crawl over or around off drop off of safely.
The path over/around the mud puddle!

Entrance to  Little Wild Horse Canyon

Plants seemed to grow out to rock!

Sometimes the path was clear and easy!

Sometimes there was enough room!

Other times it was narrow

Really narrow!

Other times we had to climb up then crawl under!

Sights were always magnificent!

Sometimes it was a water hazard!
These canyons are part of the San Rafael Reef which is part of the San Rafael Swell in southeastern UT. As they explained to us several years ago at nearby Capital Reef National Park, the term reef comes from the days when the wagon trains were crossing the continent.  Many of those folks had seafaring backgrounds and in the sea when there is an impediment to your trip it is usually a reef so these massive uplifts that blocked there way were called reefs and many were named!  The swell refers to an uplift in the land caused by subterranean effects millions of years ago!

So this reef term has me thinking of scuba diving which I have missed except when we are in the Keys!  I am comparing these dry reefs with the wet ones I have dived off the SE coast of FL and the Keys!  

The family we met on the trail!

About two hours in we come across the first other folks we have seen. A young family from British Colombia including two kids maybe 1st and 3rd grade ages.  We stop and chat with them, the Mom shows me the map and where we are on it!  I also read the paragraph I had skimmed earlier!  It says Little Wild Horse is 4 miles long and to return along the path you took in - no loop!!!

So we were about half way through the canyon. BJ and I went on and shortly, less then 1/4 mile came to a dead-end - so we thought.  A puddle under a rock overhang!  Soon the family caught up with us and the Mom pulled out her map again and studied our surroundings and said "No it cannot be the end, we are here!"  The son went up close and sure enough there was a crack with daylight in the back of the overhang behind the puddle.  A bunch of limbs had been placed on one side to act as a bridge over the edge of the mud puddle!

We are following the family thru this widening crack behind the mud puddle under the overhang!

The family goes on, those little kids are like monkeys climbing up and over thinks like they were not there! BJ and I continue along at a slower pace.  I am thinking of that last sentence in the pamphlet the mom had "Return the way you came up Wild Horse Canyon"!  I am considered some of those last impediments especially the one shown below.  We had great difficulty getting up this vertical rock wall! We got up to the first ledge then stood on a wobbly pile of rocks to barely reach the second level and I had to pull my self up barely while BJ hung on.  Then I helped her up, but we both were exhausted by the effort! And, I was not sure going back down it was going to be safe. If the wobbly pile of rocks gave way as we came down we had about a 6 ft fall to hard rock on the bottom!  BJ is less certain now about doing both canyons and I am not inclined to go back over those last few impediments for safety reason!  So by default we keep moving forward hoping that were no more impediments like that last one!  Good news was there weren't!

Soon we are out of the slot portion of the canyon and in more open terrain with spectacular views around us! 

Resting after a difficult climb up the wall!

"Did I come up from down there?" she says!
A little more open space!

We continue on enjoying the magnifcant views.  However, now we were in the direct noon time sun with little shade.  But, the path was clear and even though there was a slight uphill grade it was not bad.  There were several info boards posted with maps marked "you are here" that made it clear we had no options but to continue on to Bell Canyon or turn around (not a feasible option for us we felt).

beautiful vistas for this part of the hike!
Entrance to Bell Canyon ahead!
It starts narrowing down!

Once we got into Bell Canyon and it started narrowing down we finished up our water supply (we had brought plenty for the original planned route of 4 miles). The GPS said at this point we had been 8 miles and the signs were clear the Bell Canyon was 4 miles long!  But, once in the canyon we did get shade so that made it a little cooler.

Shade helped!

We plugged along.  Fortunately, the impediments in Bell Canyon were not as tough as those in Little Wild Horse Canyon. Mainly climbing over boulders and/or squeezing around them.  No really steep drops and we were on a slighht but steady decline!   The miles on the GPS kept going up and with 12+ miles displayed the batteries died!  I estimated we had about 3/4 mile left in the Canyon plus about same distance from the exit to the parking lot!

Boulders were main impediment usually!
BJ was getting tired and lack of water was affecting her more then I so I decided I would push ahead as I could travel faster then her and get some water and bring it back to her!

One of the many signs of water!  
I foraged ahead and reached the Jeep in a little less then 45 minutes.  I had told BJ if she ran into an impediment that was too bad to just sit down and wait!  I was hoping she would do that, but not expecting it.  I quickly loaded some water in my backpack, changed the GPS batteries and headed back, As I reached the entrance and scaled the cliff path around the mud puddle I noted a couple coming out of the canyon,  I had noted there was only one other car in the parking lot and I assume it was theirs.  But, I did not tarry to talk with them. I moved as rapidly as I could up Bell Canyon looking for and expecting to see BJ!  By 40 minutes and a mile and half in I had not seen her and was worried!  Had she gotten delirious gone back out the canyon by mistake; had she taken cover behind one of the few collection of bushes and fallen asleep, was this the place I had left her?  Once I saw a particular landmark we had discussed I knew I was back where we had been.  While I could not figure out how we missed each other, I felt I needed to get back to the Jeep.  If she was not there I would call 911!  With the adrenalin pumping I made ti out in about 30 minutes.  As I approached the parking lot I could see not other cars or people in the lot and I was really getting upset.

However, once I got close enough I saw her sitting on the ground next to the Jeep.  I was never so glad to see anybody in my life.  What a relief.  Of course she did not have any keys to the Jeep so she was glad to see me to get some water!!  Best drink we have ever had together!

How did we miss each other? We finally figured it out. On the way back she missed the pointer to the cliff path over the mud puddle and she ended up at the mud puddle which was 4-5 feet down a rock face.  She was too exhausted to go back the 100+ yards so she slid down the rock facing and waded across the mud puddle. Meanwhile I was up on the path above the puddle and not in sight of it and thinking in my mind she was waiting for me up the canyon!

BTW- I am not telling where she found a small sip of water while waiting for me at the Jeep.  It is too disgusting!  You will have to ask her!
The infamous path I was on while she waded through the puddle going the opposite direction below!

 Well, all's well that ends well is what comes to mind.  We will study the maps more carefully before the next hike through some crazy UT above ground reefs!  And, I am even more anxious to get back the underwater canyons I love to dive in Florida!

It was sunset by the time we got back on the road to the RV - 50 miles away!

Always at home no matter where we are!